Chase Cahalan shows off a bird he got in South Dakota. 
Courtesy of Joe Martino
Chase Cahalan shows off a bird he got in South Dakota. Courtesy of Joe Martino

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a two-part series on the top 12 turkey hunting states. This week will feature the first six states. Next week will be the last six states.

Die-hard turkey hunters are a passionate bunch, myself included.  I’d think twice about driving six to eight hours to deer hunt for a day or two. But I routinely drive that far even if I only have time to turkey hunt for a day.  

Sure, I have plenty of birds around the house. But if I can lengthen my season by hitting a nearby state with a season that opens earlier or later than ours, I’m in.

With every state now offering up pretty decent hunting, here is a list of the top twelve that do it best.  That’s right, twelve.  It would have been too cliché to name the top five or ten, and the list just happened to come down to a dozen when evaluating them all.  These are also in no particular order since, depending on what you are looking for, it can be somewhat subjective.  One thing is for sure though; in terms of accessible land, bird populations, species offered, location, timing, scenery and opportunities, this dirty dozen does it best.

Tennessee
The Volunteer state has always been one of my very favorites, but besides that, it is one of the best.  Tags aren’t cheap; setting non-residents back $275, but that southern hospitality extends into the generous bag-limit.  You can kill four birds in the spring season, making the price of that tag easier to swallow.
Boasting a population of over 300,000 birds, plenty of public land with sizeable turkey populations are also easy to find in Tennessee.  
2018 spring season: March 31 – May 13.

Missouri
Duh, I mean, how could I not mention Missouri in this list of the best turkey hunting states.  When you think of THE quintessential turkey hunting granddaddy, you have to think of Missouri.  If it were not for this state in particular, many of us still would not have birds to hunt in our own states. 

Some Midwestern states like Indiana and parts of Illinois, were stocked with birds that were trapped and relocated from the Show-Me state, and for that, we thank you.

The state is also home to old-school turkey legend Ben Rodgers Lee, the founder of modern turkey hunting.  But, even though these things themselves deserve our respect as the nation’s capital of turkey hunting, the state is still one of the best states to chase a longbeard.  

With all that being said, don’t think a bird will come all that easy though.  Hunting pressure is high here, because, like I said, this is the place that put turkey hunting on the map.  Resident turkey hunters take their hunting seriously, and non-residents flock here too.  Over 100,000 hunters kill roughly 48,000 birds a year in Missouri.

2018 spring season: April 16 – May 6

Michigan
Michigan makes the list mainly for a reason you may not expect; timing.  The spring season runs through May 31 in the Wolverine State, and a non-resident tag is cheap, only $69.  If you live within a few hours of the state, it is so worth it.  

While hunters in all states surrounding Michigan see their seasons wrapping up in mid-May, Michiganders are still going strong for a couple more weeks.  Plus, turkeys are everywhere.  All areas of the lower peninsula cough up some pretty darn good hunting, and the birds up there are big.  I’m talking like 25 pound gobblers are not uncommon at all.  They just seem stocky up there.  Think Pure Michigan for pure late season action.

Michigan does have a lower population than the southern and most Midwestern states at around 200,000, but you’ll find that certain areas almost seem overrun with birds.  Four-million acres of public land to chase them on means you won’t have to worry about running out of room.  104,000 hunters take about 32,000 birds there each year.  

2018 spring season: April 23 – May 31

Kansas
There are three reason Kansas made the list; Easterns, Rios and hybrids.  Yes sir, in the Sunflower state you can chase them all, sometimes even in the same county.  If hunting in western Kansas, though, the Rio Grandes will be your predominant quarry, as they dominate the western two-thirds of the state.  The hybrids are more commonly found in the north-central region of the state, while the Easterns rule the northeast section.

Speaking of Rios, they are easier to kill than the finicky Easterns, so that’s another plus.  Rios are much more likely to come to the call, so a Rio hunt can be quite refreshing during a season of banging your head against the wall on Easterns.  But that’s just my opinion.

Kansas’ ability to offer up multiple species make it unique, and darn cool for hunters, and it also has strong populations: Rio Grande – 175,000; Eastern – 87,500 and Hybrid – 87,500.  

2018 spring season: April 18 – May 31

Florida
Like Michigan, there is primarily one reason for trekking to Florida to chase a gobbler.  One very big reason.  The Osceola.  Yep, select counties in the sunshine state are the only places on earth you can find these long-shanked, lighter-framed versions of an Eastern.

So, if you want to kill one of the only 144,649 Osceola turkeys in existence, then you will have to end up in Florida.

Another plus to hunting in Florida?  You can start early.  How early?   Early to mid-March, so getting a jump on your spring seasons a plus.

2018 spring season: March 3 – April 2.

Pennsylvania
With a season that runs through May like Michigan’s, that isn’t the only reason that the Quaker State makes the cut.  Nope, Like Missouri, Pennsylvania has a deeply rooted turkey hunting tradition too, and with harvest numbers that are always near the top in the country each year, this list would be a lie if it weren’t included.

Also like Missouri, turkey hunters mean business in this state, and are out in force.  Roughly 250,000 hunters hit the woods each spring, and they are successful in killing nearly 36,000 gobblers.

2018 spring season: April 27 – May 31

Stay tuned. Next week we’ll finish off my “Dirty Dozen!”